Our doctor usually asks us where and how it hurts, and we are encouraged to describe the pain only as it is manifesting in the body. It is a rare Western-trained doctor who asks us how we feel about our pain emotionally, what was going for us just before the onset of pain, or a myriad of other inquiries into our emotional, psychological, and spiritual states of being.
One of the reasons that we usually don’t treat physical pain with anything more than physical remedies is that, most obviously, it is experienced in and through the body. Physical pain is so overwhelming that it appears to point only to itself. This seems logical. Yet, while we do live in a physical body, we also consist of a mind and emotions, and many believe we have a spirit or soul as well.
Although much has been written in recent years about body/mind/spirit integration, particularly in connection with the rising popularity of traditional Asian medicine, the Western medical approach is only beginning to explore the concept that true healing may need to include and address the whole person.
Instead, we have been conditioned by our culture to approach our medical needs as isolated situations, things that happen only in and to our bodies. We are told we need to treat it, fix it, even cut parts of it out. But we are not taught to listen to the body or to our emotions and feeling states as they relate to the body, and certainly not to listen to or honor our pain.
In a society driven by schedules and fairly rigid work and educational structures, it’s probably a natural consequence that we would develop a medical system that almost exclusively addresses the physiological aspects of pain and ignores the rest of who we are in that pain.
Yet what if, by doing that, we, as a culture, are sidestepping a significant element within the process of healing?
Is it possible that something beyond our physical body is trying to get our attention? If so, to what end? How would addressing our spiritual natures, our belief systems, and our emotional lives at the same time that we're attending to our physical bodies change our relationship to pain? How might it affect our ability to heal? What kind of renewal might we see in our medical system?
I believe these are the kinds of questions we need to begin asking ourselves if we are going to move beyond what has become a pain epidemic in our modern world. For our current medical system, this may seem unrealistic or unnecessary. But for those of us living with unremitting pain, it may be a missing link.